Book Review: The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

Book Review: The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

Rating: 4 out of 5

Genre: Fiction

Page count: 277 (Version variable)

Edition: 2009-  Ravi Dayal Publishers; Penguin Books

The Shadow Lines is a thought scintillating work of fiction that almost makes you wonder whether this is fiction or real? Well, that is exactly what a good book is supposed to do; isn’t it? The book starts off a little slow and it requires extreme labour to continue reading through the initial pages; however, once one manages to read through 50 odd pages and gets to know the characters a little better, the story picks pace. It was refreshing to read about Indian families back in the 1930s; the educated middle class and their powerful relatives and the bonding among the Indian and the British families. It also makes one think whether these boundaries that we have made over a period of time are actually required at all? From the eyes of a young kid, the author has managed to capture the world extremely well, highlighting the different stages a young boy goes through with extreme precision, however, not making it any less interesting while he goes through with his narration. The streets of Calcutta and their charm in the early 20th century will keep you hooked as you try to figure out where the author is headed with all the detailed portrayal that he does while you read through. Overall, it is a worthy read and entertaining at the same time. It is definitely the type of book that you would want to pick up on a lazy day and read with a cup of coffee or tea by your side. Amitav Ghosh has done a great job with his mesmerizing story-telling and he would leave you with a plethora of questions for you to brainstorm and find an answer to.

Keep Trying!

Burn me in the strongest fire,

put me in the deepest hole.

Strike my temple with a wooden pole;

skin me, spice me, feed them my glaring bones.


Cowards, go run your books,

live the dirty little tricks you know.

“Yes, sir!”, “No, sir!”, “My pleasure, ma’am!”

“M’amour!”, “Mon ami!”, “Mon petite mademoiselle!”


Whip my heart and clock your gain,

every single drop you may retain.

I see the black, spit colors of white,

my white turned black in a filthy fight.


Time is too short to think and act,

You can prank my plan and reach unknown,

burn me in the strongest fire,

put me in the deepest hole.

strike my temple with a wooden pole;


Come on! Skin me!

Spice me! Feed them my seething bones;

Try and try harder; but you will never catch my soul.

This is not so important. Trust me when I say – “Trust Me”!

This is not so important. Trust me when I say – “Trust Me”!

Before I start with my thoughts, I request you to watch this clip from one of my favorite movies (and yours too, if you love traveling) – Highway.

If you watched the video clipping, by now you would have realized where my thoughts are headed to. The thought of traveling and visiting the scenic mountains is the first one to pop in our mind when we think about this movie. Most of us did not take away this message of the movie that Imtiaz Ali (Total respect for the man) so subtly portrayed in this 133 minutes long motion picture. Yes, I am talking about rape and molestation; not just child molestation but sexual abuse of every kind – female sexual abuse, pedophilia (child sexual abuse, in case you are not familiar with the word), male sexual abuse (yes, that’s a thing in case you did not know) and even animal sexual abuse (It is a shady and dark world, really).

Two years ago, India stood together as a nation to protest against what we know as one of the most shameful sexual assault case in Indian history – The Delhi Gangrape case. Last year, two girls were raped and murdered by hanging them to death on a tree in a village in Uttar Pradesh. Recently, renowned Hollywood actor Shia LaBeouf came out about how he was raped early this year. Several other instances involving Indian as well as foreign women have been highlighted in the media in the recent years. It is not just India that is ridden with the perverts who forget that they are assaulting another human, just from another gender (sometimes the same gender) and invading a person’s privacy to an extent that it leaves the victim shattered for life. In India and so many other countries that have very unique cultural values, it becomes a matter of shame for the victim rather than the perpetrator to have been assaulted. In some countries, the victim have been stoned to death rather than the offender. However, that is not something I want to talk about.

I know a few such people who have been molested, not just once but for years and have decided to stay quiet just to keep their integrity intact in the society. The very same society, that gave them the lifelong pain and misery by making sure that they do not trust anybody with the fact that they have been molested. What have they done wrong? They are the ones who were wronged with! They are the victims. Unfortunately, we portray them as people who are the sinners instead of understanding that they are people like us and need even more love and respect than ever before after what has happened with them.

Last week, a woman was raped in the capital city of the country leaving the country red faced all over again. What is even more shameful is the insensitivity of the media and the police to report such cases. In a country where the media is run on TRPs and “breaking news” is the reason why the news agencies exist, insensitivity and the greed for money is reflected in every sentence of the news provided by them. This article on The Hindu‘s website is one bittersweet example of the same. It is gravely funny how they provide full information about the girl and end the article with a statement stating that the police did not reveal the identity of the cab company. With a society around us (not just Delhi or other metro cities) that do not accept girls who drink, girls who go home late and girls who are not living life under the rules that were set by the educated people several years ago, it is insensitive on the part of police as well as the news agencies to provide details of the victim or the accused (not the convict; just an accused) in public where they can be tracked and the cloak of shame will be hung around them forever.

Uber Banned

The ban of the famous  Uber, OlaCabs, TaxiForSure and a few others came in the wake of the unfortunate event as a solution from the government not just in India but in many different countries of the world. Even though many are blaming the cab company for not keeping track of a driver’s profile, banning a good service is not the answer to the humongous evil problem that we face. Shehnaz Treasurywala wrote an open letter to Narendra Modi, Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Anil Ambani stating that men should be responsible to “save women” from the misdeeds of these miscreants. While I concur with the anger in her letter, men should not be the guards or the gatekeepers for women either. An ideal society would never require companies to identify and keep track of their drivers to ensure people’s safety or one gender protecting the other from its own.

My little mind and weirdly low level thought process fails to understand why companies like Uber, OlaCabs and TaxiForSure should be banned? In my simple understanding, the only thing that these companies do is to provide a brand name under which the local taxis can be run as a union, therefore, increasing a trust factor among the people who would otherwise still use the local taxis in the same way as they use the shared auto-rickshaws that still ply around in nearly every part of this country. Instead of focusing energy on improvising this service industry, shutting down the industry is the best solution that governments across the world could come up with. Similarly, instead of urging the “proud celebrities” to help spread awareness about being a good person, Shehnaz Treasurywala could only come up with a petition to the celebs to ensure public castration and capital punishment for the rapists. Even though, I do not support the act altogether, I do support the cause for which these actions have been taken.

Shehnaz’s appeal and the ban on multiple cab services have taken the “shame-light” away from the rape incident and the victim’s plight. However, it is not at all shocking to think how the society would distance itself from the victim because they would be concerned about the society itself. Also, it is not shocking for me to see how the self-righteous literate (used non-interchangeably with educated, again) people would still keep on portraying these victims as people to be shamed. And it would be quiet amusing to see how we will still be picturing women and men as sexual objects by using words like – “That chick is hot! I could totally bang her!“, “Look at her calves! I could totally eat them!“, “If only I could spend one night with him/her!” and similar statements for every single person in our everyday lives. Lust is good and healthy but excess of it (rather excessive expectation of it) is what is ruining the values as a whole. And the insensitivity and lack of empathy of the people is only fueling the pain caused during the aftermath of the already burning flame of uncontrollable expectation of lust.

Is this really what it should be? Can we really not be good humans and be a little bit more sensitive and empathetic? Let’s be human first and then we will talk about being a good human!

McLeodGanj / Triund – Solo trips can be fun too! (Part 3)

McLeodGanj / Triund – Solo trips can be fun too! (Part 3)

Previous Posts:

(PART – 1)

(PART – 2)


The first night stay at Dharamkot is a distant and fading memory. The excessive pressure of maintaining the happy calm on a face tensed with aging wrinkles while trying to set a plan for the next couple of days and religiously following it after the ignorant tryst had taken its toll on me. Nonetheless, my first sunrise in the little town was an experience that could not be matched with anything else.

The morning sun:

One of the practices that I have developed, of late, is the practice of rising up early, to enjoy the sun rising in all its glory. Without a doubt, this good habit of mine totally paid off when I was in Dharamkot. I woke up, just in time, to feel the warmth of the first sun ray hit the cold surroundings and the glorious view that the shining winter sun brings with it. It was in the morning that I realized that my room was east-facing. The first couple of minutes, the sun rays could be seen shining from behind the mountains turning the sky in a sparkling white color. Within a few seconds (not minutes), the sun was out from behind the mountains, shining golden bright (picture below) making it one of the best moments in my stay at the town.

Dharamkot Morning

Triund Trek – Preparatory Leg

The morning had brought about a new sense of achieving something bigger and better. How foolish it would be of anyone to be in the mountains and not to try to reach the mountain top to savor what mountains are known for – utter peace and killing silence. I had already tried to cover up for my stupidity (I’ll refer to this as my new cool high from now onwards. This trip was a cool factor high, really) from the previous day by planning this trek in advance. My conversation, from the previous post, with the guest house owner who banged my door to wake me up in time to reach the Bhagsunag temple before sunset suggests the same. I had hired a private guide for Rs 800 (This could have been Rs 500) for the day to assist me to reach Triund for two reasons:

  1. I was not sure of the trek route.
  2. When on mountains, it is always better to have a company when you are trekking or campaigning as they act as a motivation for you to keep going and are also familiar with the place, people and local language to help you in time of your need. (Yes, I thought of that after the cool factor high. I’m weirdly amazing)

After sulking in the morning sun and taking a bath, I came out to meet the guide and have my breakfast. At Himalayan Cafe, I came to know about the Wildcraft Triund Trail Run that was being organized the same day. It is a half-marathon in the hills and is extremely challenging. The reason for this marathon being so challenging is so, because of the route. There are no roads where the participants have to run but a rocky , steep and narrow path. To my surprise, majority of the participants were either from Delhi or were foreigners apart from some local people. My guide told me that the last marathon (also the first one ever held) was won by a local resident and the winner took 1 hour and 17 minutes (not exact time but close) to complete the 16 km run with the max elevation of 2800M. This year, the defending champion was defeated by a time difference of 8-9 minutes with the winning time being 1 hour and 29 minutes (again, the time mentioned here is not officially recognized) and the youngest participant was a 16 years old schoolboy from Delhi.

I decided to start my journey to Triund a couple of minutes late as I wanted to cheer up the participants at the starting point of the trail run – young men, younger women and kids alike. In the next 10 minutes, I would be covering up the distance of my first ever trek as part of my first ever solo trip.

McLeodGanj / Triund – Solo trips can be fun too! (Part 2)

McLeodGanj / Triund – Solo trips can be fun too! (Part 2)


Part 1


Dharamkot –

The entry in the village did not need to be announced. I was welcomed by more than 4 friendly dogs happily cheering my arrival in the village, about 6-7 cheerful faces basking in the afternoon sun, sipping their cup of tea and the mesmerizing view of the Himalayan ranges at the entry point of the village itself. I dropped the heavy load from my shoulders on the ground and stood there for the next 10 minutes, not believing if the view was real or if I was watching a movie preview of the mountains (see picture below) for the beauty that they are. It seemed as if my purpose of coming to this place was already fulfilled. Little did I know, there was more in store for me.

Dharamkot view

It was still afternoon when I reached Dharamkot, exhausted with the little trek of mine that I am not used to. The narrow path to the village is broken on some parts and is mostly deserted, apart from one or two tourists here and there, and a couple of taxis or auto-rickshaws passing by. I still did not have a place to stay. The next half hour, I spent negotiating with the guest house owner to crack a better deal for me. I ended up paying Rs 600 / night for what would otherwise be a Rs 1200 / night room in the busy season. It was a comfortable east- side facing room.

*Bang Bang Bang Bang*

*Suddenly gets up*

“Do you want me to call the guide?”

“Yes, please!”

The guy from the west & the rush to Bhagsunag temple:

The night travel, the busy morning and the afternoon trek had taken its toll on my body. I dozed off straight away as soon as I sat on the bed in my room. 2 hours later, I was pacing downhill, to visit the Bhagsunag temple that I had heard of enough, to make me feel like I was home. But I had more on the way before I could reach the temple. To reach Bhagsunag from Dharamkot, I needed to pass through McLeodGanj once again but this time from the other side of the town. As I went strolling around, checking out shops for little souvenirs that I could buy for friends and family back home, I heard a commotion in the background. Even though I was running out of time to reach Bhagsunag, I turned around to see, what would be, a foreigner dressed up in a wig wearing a cardboard sign around his neck while holding a guitar and calling for attention (picture below).

Random Guy

In just 2 minutes of chat and no more, it was clear to me that he was just a failed artist (failed pun intended) who was trying to promote his failure as part of the promotional campaign for the events he would be playing at in the recent weeks. His creative handouts (image below) were as much fail as his artistic skills (failed pun intended, again).

invitationI asked him if he could probably play a song for me and the people gathered around us to which he gladly acknowledged. Surprisingly, just like Bollywood movies, people around us started singing the song along with the guy and the whole street turned into a music festival for a couple of minutes. I can therefore, proudly say, that I have ‘lived’ a Bollywood movie. (All you Bollywood fans – In your face!) One final handshake and I was back on my Bhagsunag trek. With all the delay, my plan to visit the temple during daytime had taken a setback. As I had earlier said, you can never control the outcome of these random voyages. About 20 minutes later, I was at the temple with an extremely scenic sunset happening in the background and in the next 10 minutes, I was done with prayers and out to enjoy the swimming pool at the temple. Yes! You heard it! A swimming pool at the temple!

The German Bakery:

The dusk had already fallen upon signalling that I had run out of time to visit the Bhagsunag waterfalls. My disappointment was soon washed away when I realized that the place is full of beautiful cafes and bakeries all around. The German Bakery would be the first cafe I would visit during my journey.

Imagine this – Slow rock music combined with cool breeze in your face while sitting in an empty restaurant lighted with dim lamps floating in the air from the ceiling containing artwork and surrounded by posters of Bob Marley while you sip on a drink (Banana shake, in my case *needed energy*). I sat there for about an hour relishing every moment of it.

I am a guy and I am not a womanizer / flirt:

I sat there relishing the ambiance doing exactly what I wrote above with my eyes closed. A couple of minutes later, my peace was lost with a couple of loud clicking sounds. Irritated with the sounds, I looked around, to find a young woman of my age trying her hands on her camera to get a good picture of the cafe. I waved my hand to her to get her attention. A couple of hand waves later, I had her come to the far corner of the cafe, where I was seated all alone for the past few minutes.

Me: “Maybe you’d like to click the picture from this angle of the lampshade here!” *Gets up from the seat*

*click click*

She: “That does not look good enough”

Me: “No! Try it from this angle.”


She: “Looks Ok?”

Me: “Here, let me help you!”

*grabs camera, clicks the picture (below)*

She: “Wow! That looks great! You’re good!”

Me: “Thanks! It’s late. Are you here all alone?”

*Random guy* : “Are you done yet?”

She: “Sounds like you got your answer!” *winks*

*both laugh*

Me: “Cya around, then!”

She: “Cya!”

But you guys have to trust me over this. I am NOT a womanizer / flirt!

Ceiling Lamp

McLeodGanj / Triund – Solo trips can be fun too! (Part 1)

McLeodGanj / Triund – Solo trips can be fun too! (Part 1)

“Oh! He’s never going to do it. Nobody goes alone. He’s just kidding..”

“Who goes on a solo trip in India? You’ve gone crazy!”

“You’re just mad! Why would you even do this?”

“Drop the plan, bro! Let’s go to Rishikesh next weekend for rafting and bungee jumping.”

While these were the most common statements that were used by people around me, including my parents, there were others that were motivating enough for me to not drop the plan to go on the solo excursion that I had not planned much for.

“Man! You’re so cool! Respect! I wish I could go like you!”

“Bhai humara, stud hai!” (Our brother is a stud! *sarcastic, I know; still motivating*)

The tickets to nowhere –

Frankly speaking, even I did not believe that I was going alone for this little journey of mine. The mere thought of traveling alone for 12 hours on one side, to a place in the hills, sounded bizarre and equally exciting to me. It wasn’t until 6 PM, when I booked my bus tickets, on the day that I was supposed to leave, that I realized that I would actually be doing this. I felt stupid for the next couple of hours that I was in the bus, sitting (rather, lying in the sleeper coach) alone sipping on Red Bull, trying to figure out, if this was stupidity to a new level or sheer cool factor on a high.

I had boarded a private bus to Hoshiarpur (Punjab, India) from Red Fort in Delhi that I had booked online on RedBus for Rs 1000, without a plan in my head for how I would be spending the next three days of my life. Even though I had spent the past one week telling everyone around me that I would be going on this trip, I had not planned a single moment of my journey because I wanted it to be a completely different and new experience for me. I have always believed that the best things in life happen unplanned (yet, somewhere in my head, I was quite sure this was stupidity).

Since the last direct bus to McLeod Ganj from Delhi leaves at 8 PM and  I was to be in the office till 7 PM, the bus to Hoshiarpur (leaves at 9:45 PM) was the only viable option available to me. So, there I was, headed towards Hoshiarpur, from where I would be taking the first bus to Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh, India) and further, a cab to McLeod Ganj. Easy thing, right? Nah! Nobody told me that these buses that we sign up for, online, are not the buses we get in real. I was forced in a private bus (I really had no option. Pre-paid and last bus to Hoshiarpur. Could not miss it) with a very rude staff (that turned extremely friendly with me later in the morning and even offered me free ride for the next time and gave me their phone number) forcing me to contemplate my decision of going alone, once again, which I realized was the best decision I had made in the recent weeks.

The morning anxiety –

The fun part about these random trips is that you are never too sure about the outcome, no matter how hard you try to control it. Little did I know that I would face the mammoth task of reaching McLeod Ganj in the next 7 hours of my journey. It took me 4 hours of switching between 3 buses to reach Dharamshala at 10.30 AM.

Once I got down the bus, my anxiety level started rising. I was on an excursion to the hills all alone, with little knowledge about the place and nearby areas, with no food in my bag, no hotel rooms booked, no set plan / itinerary to follow to discover the places around, no return ticket in my pocket and a mesmerizing view around me. Things had finally got real for me, since, I knew there was no going back. My priority was to find a good and cheap accommodation where I would put up for the next 2 nights. After talking to over 25 people, I decided to stay at a guest house in Dharamkot, which is 2-3 kms above McLeod Ganj.

The mini-trek

By 2:00 PM, I had reached McLeod Ganj from Dharamshala, after a brief shopping spree in the local market. The guest house where I was supposed to put up was still 2-3 kms above McLeod Ganj. Excited and all pumped up, I decided to walk my way taking in all the scenic beauty around me.

Two things that a person must never be ignorant of, when on the lower hills:

  1.  Steepness of the slope,
  2.  Monkeys!

And by now, you know that I am an ignorant guy. With a bag weighing close to 10 Kg (Note to self: take less stuff next time), a steep uphill walkway, not more than a couple of people around and monkeys all around me, I had really started contemplating my decision making capabilities. Luckily, 30 minutes, one bottle of water and a Maggi later, I managed to reach the guest house in Dharamkot.

Dharamkot is a quiet and secluded place with not so many visitors around during the month of November. There are a couple of guest houses in the village and two small cafes where I could mostly see foreigners, sunbathing and enjoying a cup of tea in the small town above McLeod Ganj. This is where I would be for two consecutive nights.

(Part 2)

Another World

When tears don’t flow,
When your heart doesn’t know,
When your past is taking its toll,
And you cannot go hey-oh!

All that you want and all that you need,
is a shadow that scratches your wound too deep.
When your mind’s elation is an image that you breathe,
and omnipresent are mannequins you don’t heed,

Take the anger down to a pen,
this numbness you will feel again,
take a walk in the park, it will still be dark,
and move on to another world.

Words once said shall haunt you up.
Fists once thrown will bounce off the hook.

Take the anger down to a pen,
this numbness you will feel again,
take a walk in the park, it will still be dark,
and move on to another world.

All that you want and all that you need to know,
are in the wisdom of the Gods who once ruled this world.
Suck it up and crawl beneath the stones,
for the words once said shall haunt you more,
and these fists will turn into the hands that would hold,
the key to the kingdom you never owned.

So, take thy anger down to a pen,
this numbness you will feel again,
take a walk in the park, it will still be dark,
and move on to another world.

Originally published on 29th January 2014.

Sorry, I cannot buy that!

Sorry, I cannot buy that!

“Mere bacho ki kasam, mai pehle bahut ameer tha. Mujhe bahut ghumaan tha paiso par. Par aaj mai yaha subah 10 baje se ghoom raha hu aur mujhe 800 rupay aur chahiye. Mere bache ki fees poori ho jayegi. Ye dekho, maine itne(takes out money from his pocket) ka samaan bech diya hai, please belt le lo. Mai bheekh nahi maang sakta. Mere Sai tumhe yaad rakhenge, chaahe mai tumhe bhool jau. Meri shakal pe mat jao.”

These were the words said to me by a guy selling belts outside at 12.30 am. On a normal day, about an year ago, I would have bought that belt or maybe just donated money to that fellow trying to sell those belts on the roadside to support his child’s education, but not anymore.

Yes, I said it – I did not buy that belt, nor did I buy the reason given by him. As cold heart-ed as you may call me, Delhi has changed my heart in to not believing any of these non-sense excuses that people use to dupe others of money. It is highly possible that the said guy was in the need of the money that he was talking about but there is a lot of concern in my head about the genuineness of the above mentioned cause. How do I believe you, sir? I have been duped of my money so many times by people who only needed that to buy another round of drink or do drugs with the same money, that I cannot take risk on people like you by sparing my hard earned money on such foolish reasons provided by you.

India has a major problem of fraudsters burning a hole into people’s pockets by using emotional bull-sh*t like that; be it in the name of God, in the name of their siblings, in the name of their relatives or parents who are dieing in a hospital or, like in the above case, in the name of their children’s educational requirements. I will not stereotype people by saying that everyone out there is a liar, but after more than half a century of encounters with fraudsters who made me believe in the foolish reasons they gave, I refuse to help anyone who walks up to me with the above mentioned statements.

This problem is not centered along the city of Delhi, where this incident with me occurred, but is existent in every single corner of the world famous state for its cultural assets, called India. I have more than a certain number of incidents to support my reasoning. What pisses me off further is the fact that many tourists coming to the country fall for this trap and pay huge sum of money to “help” these kind of people and are seldom aware of this scam happening across the whole country. How do you expect us to justify it to them that India is not a fraud country when we ourselves cannot believe in our own people? Even as literate(used non-interchangeably with educated) Indians, many fall for such traps set up by scamsters spread all across this country – North, South, East or West.

The problem lies in the cultural setup itself. In a country where castes, races, religion and sentiments drive every aspect of this state and even a slight mismatch in the ideology upsets the emotions of people to a level where communal riots break out, it is extremely easy to exploit this society’s weakness to earn money, power, affiliation and total control over the minds of people for any kind of benefits one could want. Our most priced asset that is etched in our souls from the time we are born has become our curse in disguise.

Me, being aware of it to some extent, will not change the society altogether. It will only harm the society more because it makes it hard for me to differentiate between the truth and the lies and it makes me more paranoid to spend my money or time on such people. I may not speak ill of them to others, but not everybody would be like me in this case. Spending some time and effort to check for the truthfulness of the statements is an option but honestly, it is not viable since my time is as equally priced as everyone else. How else do you expect me to be more empathetic to this society when the lies spoken by a couple of fraudsters make me lose trust in the society?

I may be a good guy but I am not a God. Therefore, to the guy who tried to sell me the belt with the above mentioned statements – “Sorry, I cannot buy that!”



Every morning is a stop,
every evening a start of fight through the night,
as I go insane, as I writhe for the right.

I twist the fate, to,
carry this bag of bones,
but these daemons won’t stop trying.
Torn inside out,
I yearn to earn respect more than life.
Unscathed pride is the prejudice.

Of the mother and the father,
the disappointment that this has been,
an age, a generation pass by,
bound to change, one last time, as this is ‘ I ‘.

I twist the fate, to,
carry this bag of bones,
but these daemons won’t stop trying.
Torn inside out,
I yearn to earn respect more than life.
Unscathed pride is the prejudice.

Enter the den, keep these daemons trying,
I push the limits,
this is my last time.
Through fire and heat,
through this world of deceit,
I fall to rise,
above the skies, free from the prejudice…
Feet don’t fail me now..

Originally published on 5th May 2013.